LifeGrid Magazine March 2018 - Page 9

You Are Never Alone by Mark Thomas. You are never alone. Four words that mean so much, more than anyone that has never experi- enced post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) could ever know. How do I know this? Well I speak from experience, as in February 2013, I was hospitalised and diagnosed with PTSD, depression and anxiety. I was a shell of my former self. The husband, the father, the son, the friend, the colleague, the police officer, everything that I thought I knew about myself, erased. It was and remains true to this day, the most brutal, horrible, remarkable and fascinating experi- ence I have ever been through. I am lucky, extremely lucky, because I had a solid base of support around me; I made an instant deci- sion in hospital to never drink alcohol again; I had a thirst for recovery techniques; I had a thirst to get my life back and I had an inner drive to recover. I knew that it was going to be (and still is) bloody hard work with some truly horrible days, weeks and months, but here I stand today, functioning relatively well and leading somewhat of a normal life. As I said, I am lucky, others are not. By no means do I say that others don’t recover because they don’t work hard at it, far from it, the dice fell my way, everything I tried, worked. I am extremely lucky. One of the first brutal lessons PTSD taught me was that I felt intensely alone. I did not think that anyone could ever feel like I was. The constant buzz or ding on my phone alerting me that a message or an email had arrived indicated otherwise, but my brain was injured, severely injured and I could not equate the positive supportive messages and emails to mean that I was not alone. I knew there were many others in the emergency services and military as well as civilians that have PTSD but again, my brain would not allow me to equate that. I determined that I had to look forward to something in the future to start the nurturing of my brain back to how I wanted it to be. It was a scary and vulnerable feeling and one that was completely foreign to me, but at that stage when I looked at my future, it was black, pitch black with nothing there. I wanted to start a support group for police and emergency services members with PTSD to show those that have it, that they are, in fact not alone and never will be. I did not want any of my first responder brothers and sisters to feel the way that I was feeling and although I do not feel like I did five years ago, I still vividly remem- ber that feeling and it continues to drive me; drive me to continue to recover and continue to support others. I kicked off the group when I got back to full time work, some two and a half years after diagnoses. From humble beginnings of 50 odd members which consisted of my Facebook mates, primarily involved in the Emergency Services, meeting once per month in Melbourne, to nearly 2,000 Emergency Services members and meetings in Melbourne, Geelong, Gippsland, Bendigo and a few other spots soon to kick off. It is fair to say that the group has grown and the peer to peer support that is shown to one another is brilliant. Mates helping mates. Brothers and sisters standing side by side. People you do not know and have never met brought together by the one common thing – PTSD and a want and need to support each other. Three of our members have assistance dogs who help the lads handle their anxiety and are just unbe- lievably incredible to watch when they are working. I have been with the men when they have been triggered and the dogs have been trained to know how to handle the anxiety attacks. The training of these dogs is not a cheap operation. It takes approx- imately 18 months to train and can cost in the vicinity of $35,000 but they absolutely save lives, and from where I stand, you can't put a price on that. Thanks to a few civilians who are helping us achieve our aim, we are well on the way to becoming a regis- tered charity. Hopefully by the time this goes to print I can say that I am the CEO of a health promotion charity. My goals for this charity are twofold. Firstly, our mission is to sponsor more assistance dogs so that lives can be saved and improved. Secondly, we will continue to offer social support so that other members feel connected, reassured and never alone. Your support is greatly appreciated. If you are able to contribute, please do so by clicking the link and following the instructions. (Edited by Rachel Russell)